“If I keep on saying to myself that I cannot do a certain thing, it is possible that I may end by really becoming incapable of doing it”
After a number of posts talking about food, whole foods plant based eating I am getting back to an article on training. Specifically, this article will be about increasing strength. Who doesn’t want to be stronger, right? Everyone does, really. Being stronger can help you in everyday life from carrying groceries back to the car and to the house, renovating the house, carrying gear for a photo shoot and so on. With increasing strength comes an increase in muscle mass. And that has its benefits too. It can be an increase in your confidence because of you feeling better about your appearance. If you think about it, adding muscle mass can be considered a body mod. And in saying that there are many body mods from the somewhat subtle hair cut, piercings, to the more extreme plastic surgery. I really don’t have issues with body mods as long as they are safe and its something you want to do, that you are doing it for you. If having straighter teeth as an example makes you happier and more confident than great! There are so many more things in this world that warrant us to get upset over. Save your energy and concern for those things. You might just make the world a better place to live in.
On we go
Want to increase strength, add muscle? Here are a number of things you can do to achieve your goal. And with that let’s get to the first one:
- Goals: How do I know I’ve gotten to where I’m going without a destination? You don’t. You need to set yourself a goal and it should be a realistic goal. Doubling your 1 rep max weight in 6 weeks probably isn’t a realistic goal. Increasing that one rep max by 50% in that time period might be. What also makes a goal realistic is taking into account your life. Are you busy most of the day, rushing around trying to get things done? You work the weekend to earn some extra cash and then are busy with other activities? You have to factor that in to the goal. This also ties directly into how you train. I’m not a big fan of exercises that isolate muscles. It just takes too much time and unless you have a lot of free time there just isn’t the time for it. Another issue I have with this is it’s not real life. It’s not replicating movements we do throughout the day.
Set a goal based on a 8 week period to start. 8 weeks is a long enough period that it seems attainable, it’s not too far off and it will pass by quickly. And because of that, when you reach your goal at the end of that 8 week period, you will feel like you have conquered the world and you will see that you have. If your goal time period is too long, it may not seem achievable half way through and may end up discouraging you. Keep it realistic both in duration and what the goal is.
- Document: Write it down, everyday, and everything. Did I double my squatting weight? How would I know if I didn’t know what weight I was using before I started? Am I eating more? Am I getting the rest I need? Am I sticking to my plan? Writing these things down helps you in knowing this and also helps you keep to your plan. Reading your journal half way through your goal period is a great way to keep motivated by seeing the results of your hard work on paper (or on the screen) or it may be a good way to get your ass moving if you have been neglecting your plan. Adding strength/muscle mass is not rocket science but it is scientific – you need to tear down the muscle fibers to have them grow back stronger. You need to eat well, and rest. You need to train smart. Keeping track of these things helps you do these things.
- The work: Let’s get to physical part of it. How much work, what type of work.
- Low reps. Want to increase your strength? Then no more going over 10 reps. Your reps should be between anywhere from 4 to 10 reps. Any higher and you will not increase strength. The good news is along with low reps comes longer rest periods. After completing 8 or 10 reps, take 90 to 120 seconds off. This allows the muscles to recover to get ready for the next set. And now for the sets. To start, keep it at 3 sets. Later, you can work up to 5 or 6 sets. If that’s too much time sitting around, work two body parts at the same time in a sense. Complete a set of bench presses as an example and instead of resting and waiting that 120 seconds, do a set of squats. This works well for someone who does not have a lot of time too. That’s it. Low reps, rest.
- Full range of motion. Build that strength through the whole range of motion, not just part of it. This way you will be strong regardless of where that strength is required. And it will also look more natural. Have you ever seen someone who’s upper arm is large, but coming down towards the elbow it gets really narrow? That’s because they are cheating when doing bicep curls. The lower part of the bicep is not getting worked out like the upper part, and it shows. And remember, working full range of motion means working the whole muscle which means more muscle mass which means more strength.
- Legs. Yeah, no one likes working legs. That pukey feeling you get from all the blood in your body getting diverted to the muscles in your legs. And working legs helps in the increase in testosterone and human growth hormones. Don’t worry, it’s all natural so it’s all good and don’t worry if you are female. This will not cause you to all of a sudden get huge and bulky. The added testosterone and human growth hormone will help in developing strength and muscle everywhere else; arms, chest, back and so on. For exercises, stick to squats and lunges. That’s it.
- Back. Back and a bit of shoulders really. Keeping with full range motions and not isolating, stick to pull ups, and cable rows. If you can’t do cable rows because you don’t have the equipment, you can to the equivalent with resistance bands. I love resistance bands because they keep the resistance on the muscles during the full range of motion, not only part of the range. If you want, you can also add shoulder presses. DON’T DO THESE BEHIND THE NECK!. If you can, use dumbbells.
- Chest – The antithesis of the back. Bench press, chest flies. That’s it. Simple, straight forward.
- Lastly, arms. Want big arms? Absolutely! Then build the triceps. They make up about two thirds of your arm. Big triceps makes for big arms. Tricep dips, tricep kick backs, tricep extensions. Or, if you want to target the triceps, lower chest, shoulders, and forearms you can do dips using a dip stand.
- Rest: You need rest. More than you are probably getting. You are tearing up your muscles and the body needs rest, sleep really, to heal the damage. This is what helps you to get stronger and to grow. Get enough sleep every day. And do not train the same muscles without a 48 hour break. Don’t know how to do this? Great time to get a personal trainer to show you how you can train the body parts you want to and do this in a manner where that body part has 48 hours off, but still train that body part enough in that week to add strength. Also remember you need to train that body part at least twice a week. Yes, you need to do legs twice a week. Do you hate me now?
- Food: Eat more. Eat more. Eat more. Did I make my point? I hope so. Working out to increase strength uses a lot of calories and if you aren’t getting enough calories you will then be running a deficit and will not get stronger. Complex carbs and protein from plant based sources! Stay as low as you can when it comes to fat. I bolded the protein part to make it important. Increase in consumption of animal protein has been shown to increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes, strokes, cancer and many other diseases. That stuff is really nasty for your health. Plant based protein has not been shown to do this. Keep track of what you consume daily. Here’s a tip. Do this for a week. Document it (use Cronometer, a great tool to keep track of what you eat each day and what you getting from the foods you eat). Now you have a base line. You now know what you are consuming in a week broken down each day, showing you the number of calories, amount of protein, carbs, fat and other information. Now start your program, and increase the calorie count by 10 – 20%. Do that for 4 weeks. Are you getting stronger? Has your body composition changed? If not, and you are sure of this, increase another 10%. Find that point where you are getting stronger, you are adding muscle mass. If you feel that you have increased too much, take it back a bit if you aren’t happy about that. It’s up to you. You are the artist sculpting your body.
And listen to your body. Tired all the time? Could be over training, not enough rest. Not getting stronger, also a sign of over training? Basically over training is you are not giving enough time/nutrients/rest for your body to repair the damage you have done to it to get stronger.
But don’t fret. The hardest part is at the beginning. Finding the sweet spot. But once you do, once you find out how much you need to eat to increase strength, how much rest you need, what works for you, you can carry this with you for a long time. You will learn what works for you and what doesn’t And you will have learned all this all the while getting stronger. Awesome, isn’t it.
One last thing. Is this a priority for you? Is it something you really want? If it isn’t it’s probably going to be hard to do these things and it won’t happen. If it is than jump right in and look forward to being a stronger you. Because you will be stronger. I know you will. I’ve seen it happen myself.
Yours in health,